Two local residents honored at White House for work in science, technology

Among the 23 scientists and innovators President Obama honored Friday afternoon during a White House ceremony were La Cañada Flintridge residents Frances Arnold and Solomon Golomb.

Arnold — a professor at Caltech — won a National Medal for Technology and Innovation, and Golomb — a professor at USC — received a National Medal for Science.

Arnold conducts research in chemical engineering and biochemistry, and was recognized for her pioneer research in biofuels and chemicals that could replace fuel known for generating pollution.

The 56-year-old has said natural minerals such as petroleum will eventually run out, making it important to find ways to create renewable fuel.

“It’s a very exciting time now for this kind of work,” she said. “The possibilities are exploding.”

President Obama awarded the medals during a ceremony at the White House streamed on the Internet.

Arnold was one of 11 to win the technology and innovation medal and the only woman in that category.

Last year, Arnold was the first woman to win the Draper Prize – the Nobel Prize of the science world.

Rep. Adam Schiff said in a statement that Arnold was known for conducting “thousands upon thousands” of experiments during her time at Caltech.

“She’s known as a prodigious worker…and has served as a role model for countless women looking to break into a field once dominated by men,” he said.

Golomb was one of 12 to win the national science honor for helping to develop technology critical to communication systems via cell phones or in deep space.

The technology Golomb developed at JPL was “critical to the lunar and planetary missions,” Schiff said, and referred to Golomb as “the godfather of Tetris” for creating polyominoes that inspired the tile-matching, puzzle video game.

“We are so grateful to all of you,” President Obama told the recipients. “The incredible contributions that you’ve made have enhanced our lives in immeasurable ways — in ways that are practical but also inspirational.”


Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.